William Styron said that in a lecture at Trinity College, Hartford, CT on the day he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968. It has been an important reminder to me of the not-that-obvious axiom that fiction deals in truth. In fact, I am inclined to say that truth requires fiction.
Fictions almost always inhabit poetry and those that do are almost always relevant to whatever truth the poet is trying to get across, and I say “get across” because the element of truth that makes fiction necessary is that it is unsayable and so we are always trying to get across the gap between truth and wherever we are. This makes poetry sound impossibly difficult, which it is. It is also impossibly alluring because we know that truth exists and that we want it in our grasp.
So, there I was writing all summer long about my sister dying and trying like the devil to speak the truth while knowing that I probably couldn’t and that I had to let the poem create its own fiction in service to the truth and my desire to say it. Let me repeat, loudly: I HAD TO LET THE POEM CREATE ITS OWN FICTION.
Often, our desire to say the truth, the facts, gets in the way of our art and it is art that points the way to truth, not fact. We must sacrifice the facts about even our loved ones if we are to get at the truth we want to write, the truth we want to honor them with.
It is up to the readiness of our craft to let the poem evolve as it wants to, to let the poem navigate its own way to the truth. This is the point of yesterday’s entry about being ready to write about death.
I hope this hasn’t been confusing. Or maybe I do.
So long for now.